Shown is the front door of a South L.A. home where a 6-year-old boy was found… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
The Los Angeles Times filed a lawsuit Wednesday asking a judge to order county child welfare officials to release records related to the deaths of children who had been under their supervision.
Under a law that went into effect in 2008, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services is required to release records to the public when a child dies after passing through the protective services system.
"The county has received the lawsuit and is reviewing it, but we cannot comment on pending litigation," said Nishith Bhatt, spokesman for the agency.
After passage of the 2008 law, the county initially released records for nearly all deaths. But after The Times began reporting on social worker errors, the release of documents slowed. Additionally, county staffers began to redact the records more heavily, leaving many unreadable.
In 2010, the county's Office of Independent Review found that child welfare officials, working with law enforcement agencies, succeeded in getting records withheld, even though police investigators hadn't first reviewed the files. The result has been blanket roadblocks to disclosure that resulted in "a virtual paralysis of the [law's] intent," according to a report by the county watchdog office's lead attorney, Michael Gennaco.
County officials promised to follow Gennaco's recommendations and improve the flow of information. But more than a year later, the changes have not been implemented.
In addition to The Times' suit, child advocates on Wednesday sued the California Department of Social Services in San Diego County Superior Court, seeking to overturn regulations they say unlawfully allow counties to keep secret possible causes of deaths among children whose safety is supposed to be monitored by government agencies.
The lawsuit by the Children's Advocacy Institute alleged that the state rules unlawfully obstruct disclosure of key documents in child fatality cases. The suit targets regulations that require a coroner to decree with complete certainty that a specific act of abuse or neglect killed a child before case records can be publicly released. That standard improperly excludes cases in which mistreatment, such as malnourishment, was a potential contributing factor, the suit says.